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Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Saturday Morning in the Orchid Center

Rhyncholaelia digbyana
The Orchid Center has three full time staff. We work weekends in rotation. Weekend duty always feels like Thanksgiving morning to me: a mad rush to make things perfect because company's coming in three hours! Up before dawn, drive to work in the dark, unlock the greenhouses, water, deadhead, clean up fallen leaves, sweep, fill ponds, water some more, remove faded plants, bring out new plants in time for our first visitors at 9 am. When I'm lucky, there's time for a few early morning pictures.

Anguloa uniflora, one of the Andean Tulip Orchids. The flowers smell like wintergreen
Anguloa flowers appear simultaneously with the new shoots
Lockhartia obtusata, a Braided Orchid from Panama and Colombia. Lockhartia flowers produce oil as a food reward for their bee pollinators
Paphiopedilum volonteanum occurs in Sabah, Borneo
Lockhartia amoena, a Braided Orchid and Brassia arcuigera, a Spider Orchid
Isochilus major in the Tropical High Elevation House. Native to Mexico and Central America
The Orchid Center is wonderfully still and serene in the morning (after 9 am, that is.) Stop by this weekend!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Wolf's Head

The sweet spicy fragrance that hits you upon entering the Orchid Display House comes from this plant, an unnamed Lycomormium species. It is a complex fragrance. To my uneducated nose, it's nutmeg and camphor. An unconventional pairing to me, but appealing to male Euglossine bees, who as pollinators, are entitled to their preferences.

All of the Lycomormium species in our collection are hefty plants when mature, with long (3 ft.) accordion-pleated leaves. Like Stanhopea and Acineta, two other members of the orchid subtribe Stanhopeinae, Lycomormium species produce pendant spikes that grow down through the substrate, so we grow our plants in slatted baskets to allow the spikes to emerge.

So, what's up with the name Lycomormium? Lykos (wolf) and mormo (ghost) is an intriguing combination. Pedro Ortiz, in 'Orchids of Colombia', says that when seen from the front, the column appears to have a pair of teeth projecting from under the anther, giving it the look of a wolf's head. Reichenbach, who named this genus, must have been looking at a type specimen of  L. squalidum with more impressive teeth than our species possesses.

If you're not a Euglossine bee, a Lycomormium can be a right pain to pollinate -like trying to stuff a fat pair of rabbit's ears into a mail slot. It seems to be easier if the flower has been without its anther cap for a day. We grow our plants in a mixture of long-fibered sphagnum and chopped coarse tree fern fiber. A couple of years ago we relocated our Lycomormium baskets to a brighter cooler location next to the wet wall in our back up greenhouses, with good results -stronger plants and more inflorescences.

Monday, June 8, 2015

June Openings

Ah, summer. June is a terrific month to visit the Orchid Center because of the large number and variety of orchids in our permanent collection that are flowering. The Laelia purpurata varieties are the undisputed stars of this month. But there are lots of others.

A perfectly formed Paphiopedilum acmodontum slipper fresh from its morning shower. This seedling is flowering for the first time this year. It has lovely mottled foliage. Acomontum is native to the Philippines.

This Lycomormium species has thick waxy flowers with a sweet spicy fragrance.

Pink and jade. Paphiopedilum liemianum is a Sumatran species that is easy to confuse with P. chamberlainianum and P. glaucophyllum, but is immediately distinguished by its leaf margins, which have short stiff hairs. It grows on limestone at 600 to 1000 meters elevation according to Phillip Cribb. I like the balletic positioning of the petals on this plant.

Lots of orchid excitement this month. Stop by and bring your camera!

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Two Beauties

Pleurothallis (syn. Acronia) cyanea
Two of our loveliest Pleurothallids have been flowering simultaneously on the same tree in the Tropical High Elevation House. They make quite a show together.

Pleurothallis (Acronia) calceolaris
Pleurothallis (Acronia) cyanea and P. calceolaris are allied species. Notice how similar the flowers are, apart from their color. Both have a deeply concave synsepal (in the 6 o'clock position), like a broad oval bowl. The lateral petals of the two species are similar in shape, narrowly triangular.

Now compare the dorsal sepals (in the 12 o'clock position) of the two species. The blood red flowers of P. calceolaris have a dorsal sepal that is tall and appears narrow because the margins are reflexed backwards. I like the pebbly (verrucose) texture.

P. cyanea has a dorsal sepal broadly oval in shape and wrinkled in texture. It has a lovely shimmering quality in the sunshine.

P. cyanea and P. calceolaris are both native to Colombia. We grow our plants as epiphytes on trees in the Tropical High Elevation House. We choose a shady location on the moist interior branches of a tree. When we attach an epiphytic orchid to a branch, we use a minimum amount of moss over the roots in order to encourage them to establish directly on the branch rather than in the moss. The downside of using less moss is that the plants need more frequent watering. But that's a small price to pay for increased longevity.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Same to you, Pleurothallis linguifera

From the front, the flower of Pleurothallis (Acronialinguifera appears to be a pretty but otherwise unremarkable example of a "frog." Short column. Apical stigma. Concave dorsal sepal. But I had to laugh when I saw it in profile.

Whoever named this irreverent flower linguifera (tongue-bearing), pretty much nailed it.*  The 'tongue' is the flower's lowermost petal, or lip.

I also like the two lateral petals, which appear to be clasping.

Carlyle Luer treats this taxon as a highly variable species-complex including adonis and linguifera. The distributions of the two taxa and their intermediates overlap, making identification difficult. The plant pictured here has characteristics of both species.

Pleurothallis (Acronialinguifera complex is widely distributed through the Andes, from Colombia through Bolivia. It grows as an epiphyte or as a terrestrial at elevations as high as 3250 meters. You can see our plants flowering now in the Tropical High Elevation House, growing in one of the trees and rooted in live moss on the ground.

Among the "frogs" in our collection that I have pollinated, only this one has refused to set seed. I guess defiance is just part of its character.

*John Lindley in 1859.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Pleurothallis titan

What a magnificent plant. Canary yellow flowers with enormous sail like leaves. Pleurothallis (Acronia) titan is one of our most distinctive orchids and one a handful of gigantic pleurothallid species. A mature plant stands about 3' tall. You might mistake the heart shaped leaves for an Anthurium, except for the characteristic "frog" flowers appearing near the top, identifying it as a pleurothallid in the subsection (or section) Macrophyllae-Fasciculatae.

Pleurothallis titan grows as an epiphyte in cloud forests in the western cordillera of Colombia and in Panama at about 1000 to 1300 meters elevation. The species was described by Carlyle Luer in Selbyana in 1977 as Acronia titan.

Our plants flower almost continuously in the Tropical High Elevation House. You can't miss them. They do well as terrestrials in our loose soil medium of fir bark, charcoal and permatill. They also thrive as epiphytes, although their enormous size at maturity can pose problems -they need to be very firmly anchored to a tree.

A couple of plants that I cross pollinated in February are currently bearing capsules. We track and record the maturation data for every capsule we produce. When the capsule begins to split, we will sow the seeds in our lab. We plan to distribute some of the flasks and keep some of the seedlings for our collection.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Blue (Leaved) Orchids

Two recent additions to our orchid collection are miniatures with blue hued foliage, which makes them irresistible as far as I'm concerned.

Our Promenaea riograndensis is small enough to fit in the palm of my hand. It is a native of the cool humid mountain regions in Rio Grande Do Sul and Santa Catarina state in southern Brazil where it grows as an epiphyte, sometimes in association with P. stapeliodes, according to Jim & Barbara McQueen in Orchids of Brazil. The leaves are thin and pliable like many of the other moisture loving species in the subtribe Zygopetalinae. Since I don't have an elevation range for this species, I'm going to try growing it first in an intermediate greenhouse. If it looks stressed in summer I'll move it to the High Elevation House. The promenaeas are a fantastic group, well worth growing if you have the opportunity.

And then there's Dendrobium trantuanii, which has some of the most beautiful pseudobulbs I've seen. They are laterally flattened and a striking blue grey color. Even the stem sheaths are gorgeous. Denderobium trantuanii was described in 2003. It grows as an epiphyte in seasonally dry evergreen forests of northwestern Vietnam at 800 to 1,000 meters elevation. Our plants are growing in our warm greenhouse. In our greenhouse, they seem to prefer growing in small cedar baskets with a small amount of moss and chopped tree fern, rather than on a cork mount.

The flowers are about two centimeters across, waxy and glossy with a faint rosy blush. I'm looking forward to growing seedlings of these beauties produced in our lab.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

A Mystery Orchid

This stopped me in my tracks. Flowering for the first time near the top a tree in the Tropical High Elevation House was an orchid I'd not noticed before. With its big solitary flower, it looked almost like an adolescent Pleurothallis gargantua. But the feeling that something was amiss sent me scurrying to the back up greenhouse for a ladder and then a closer look.

The handwritten label from Ecuagenera Nursery read 'Pleurothallis teaugei + gargantua.'  Odd. What did the plus sign mean? If Ecuagenera had created a hybrid, wouldn't they have labeled it with the names of the parents, separated by an 'x'? Is this plant a hybrid? Are teaguei and gargantua the parents?

Here's Pleurothallis gargantua, with its enormous solitary flower. For a quick guide to the floral parts, go here. The sepals look very much like those of our unknown orchid. But note that gargantua's rosy petals and yellow lip are very different.

And here's Pleurothallis teaguei flowering in the Tropical High Elevation House. If our unknown orchid is a hybrid, it could have inherited the rolled white petals from a teaguei. But where is it getting its rosy lip? Most likely not from gargantua or teaguei.

Flowering simultaneously was Pleurothallis marthae. With its rolled white petals and rosy lip, it appears to be a more likely contributor to the unknown orchid's genome.

But I can't be sure. The first step toward putting a name on this plant is to email a picture to Ecuagenera Nursery and ask for their data. Pleurothallid hybridization isn't exactly trending among commercial orchid growers, but I wouldn't be shocked if it were a hybrid. The larger Pleurothallids are fairly easy to pollinate. Alternatively, could this be a plant that Ecuagenera collected not in flower, and perhaps the names on the label were meant to be speculative? Could it be a species? There is nothing like it in Icones Pleurothallidinarum.

Whatever it is, our mystery Pleurothallis is a handsome plant. You can see it flowering now on the tree next to the door to the Conservation greenhouse.

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